A perspective of a clinician-scientist: ‘’I think it’s a difficult career to have, which is readily accepted by everyone’’
During the Utrecht University Translational Medicine: Doing the Right Research Right summer course, we asked two participants and (future) clinician-scientists to share their vision on our Pathway project.
Aarushi Bansal is a medical student at the University of Toronto. She is a member of the Kidney Health Education and Research group, affiliated with the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at the University Health Network. Aarushi is not yet a clinician-scientist as she is still a medical student, however she is very much interested in being involved in research in some way. ““I think research is a really important part of my medical training, so I definitely think it could be something I might integrate with my clinical work in the future.’’ Aarushi states that wearing two hats can be quite challenging. “It is balancing between two worlds because scientists and medical doctors often speak different languages, but collaboration can help facilitate communication between the two.’’
Margaret Chang (M.D., Ph.D.), is a paediatric rheumatology fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital. She received her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles and she completed her paediatric residency training in the Boston Combined Residency Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Margaret is a clinician-scientist and underlines the difficulty of this career. “It’s a difficult career to have and you need a lot of support to be successful. This isn’t always understood or accepted. For example, how much grant money you bring in will determine how much protected time you get from a hospital to do research. There are demands on all sides and it’s a struggle to try to be successful in both fields as your attention is pulled in so many different directions’’
One of the objectives of the Pathway project is to create efficient, sustainable and attractive career pathways for clinician-scientists. Aarushi and Margaret both believe that those career pathways would be very helpful for (young) clinician-scientists. Margaret states “There are pathways that are not always clear or upfront for people who are not especially in MD/PhD tracks. I actually did have several classmates that started out as MD’s, decided they liked research better, and then switched to a different pathway or did it on the side. So there are these options available, however not everyone knows about it. This is something that I think we should try and make more apparent’’. Although Margaret is very positive about showcasing the career pathways, she also stresses the importance of being flexible and to be able to deviate from the path. ‘’There is a lot of pressure of being groomed to go into academia, even for someone for whom this is not exactly the pathway he/she wants to take. I feel like some of my colleagues who decided not to do academic research admitted to a lot of guilt about failing the system, which I think is a shame. There are many important roles that need the perspective of a clinician-scientist and we all thrive in different settings.’’
A mentorship program for clinician-scientists does not exist yet in Europe and could help (young) professionals navigating their careers to make important choices in life. Having a mentor is actually normal for Margaret and Aarushi and they both stress its importance. Both address that you should have a mentor at every stage of your career and that the career level of the mentor should also be diverse, including peer mentors. Aarushi mentions ‘‘’Some mentoring relationships can last throughout your life and career, while others may be important for only a certain period of time. It is natural for the needs and goals of both the mentor and mentee to change over time and can lead to both parties seeking out new relationships. In the best cases, these have the potential to transform into professional friendships. As such, a mentorship programme should not be defined by a predetermined timeline’’. Margaret addresses the importance of also having a mentor who is not involved in your career pathway. ‘’It is important to have multiple mentors, including a mentor who doesn’t work with the same people you work with or who is not involved in your job performance. The relationship with your mentor must feel like a safe space. This mentor should be someone you can talk to and commiserate about problems with and who gives suggestions to move forward’’
Both summer school participants believe it would be helpful if the Pathway project team would come up with a mentorship programme for clinician-scientists. Margaret advises the Pathway team to switch mentors if a mentee doesn’t click with his or hers, because it can turn the mentee off from benefitting from the programme.
Choosing and following a career path can be challenging. Aarushi finds it hard to say where she sees herself in 5 years. ‘’In the next few years, I will have to decide what I want to do clinically, and see if this lines up with the research I have been doing. If it doesn’t, it will bring me to a bit of a crossroad. That’s something I think about often. However, the research I am involved in currently (identifying patient reported outcomes and measures among patients with chronic disease) is very relevant and could be brought into many different clinical settings. The knowledge and skills I have gained from conducting research can absolutely be translated into any setting’’. Margaret has a more defined career path and hopes to be running a lab and academic hospital as well as practising pediatric rheumatology.
We wish Aarushi Bansal and Margaret Chang all the best in their future careers!